“Pardon Me”

Matthew 17:1-9


            For some reason, maybe it was the accent and the obscure timing of the question, but I have always loved this commercial. Show clip. Here you got the poor guy trying to enjoy the finer pleasure of life with his meal and he is rudely interrupted. I’m sure he really enjoyed that next bite as they drove away, but that first bite, usually one of the most enjoyable bites of a meal, the after taste may have been ruined by the “Pardon me, would happen to have any Grey Poupon?

            Life is full of interruptions. Sitting there at the dining room table, enjoying a great meal, and all of a sudden a glass of milk spills all over the table, soaking food, and going onto people’s lap. Enjoying a quiet night at home, the phone rings, and you just learn that a good friend or loved one has been involved in an accident or has passed away. Work schedules are interrupted when your child is sick. Every pastor can relate with interruptions. “Just when I was getting some good work done, guess you who stopped by the office …”. Don’t take me saying that to mean that I don’t want you stop by or not to call, I do. I do want you too because pastors also understand how unwelcomed interruptions often create unexpectedly welcome opportunities for ministry. While interruptions may be frustrating for us all, interruptions are not all bad.

            Like with our gospel reading this morning from Matthew 17. Let me set this scene up for us again. Jesus takes three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John up to the top of a mountain. Up there on that mountain, Jesus is transfigured, He’s changed. His normal everyday garments are now as white as light, His face is shining with the brightness of the sun. Standing on either side of Him, talking to Him is Moses and Elijah.

            Now I would think that seeing Jesus all of a sudden change like this would put the fear of God in me, and maybe it did for James and John, but I’m not so sure about Peter. Peter is like, “Lord, this is awesome, it is great for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4). Luke in his gospel adds that Peter didn’t know what he saying and I would believe that. Peter has a way of just blurting stuff out before thinking it through.

            But here in the midst of Peter’s excitement, he gets interrupted. Interrupted not by a disciple or a jolly fellow pulling up next to him and saying “Pardon me” but instead, a bright cloud surrounds them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). Instantly Peter and the other disciples, if they hadn’t already, hit the deck totally terrified. Peter’s excitement and his plans are abruptly interrupted.

            And this is something that I am pretty sure we can all relate to. Maybe not in the sense of God’s presence and His glory surrounding us in a cloud and hearing His voice coming from such cloud, but we can all relate to the fact that in the midst of our busyness, we can lose focus of the big picture. We so easily get focused on what I need to do that we lose focus of those around us. We so easily get focused on what I want to have happen that we don’t take other people’s thoughts, situations, or plans into account. In the process we develop this tunnel vision, this blocking out of all the other things, all the other people and all the things which God would want me to focus on. We zoom in our sights and focus on what is immediately in front of me, in what needs to happen next.

            Peter too is focused in on the moment, on what is right there before him, and what he feels is best. This happened to Peter before this big transfiguration moment. You see, Jesus pulled the disciples aside and asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus then says, “Ah! I see. But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter instantly jumps up and says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus told him that he was right, but that this was not revealed to him by man but by God.

            Then Jesus starts to explain to all of the disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Peter takes Jesus off to the side and begins to rebuke him, to scold him saying that this will never ever happen, not on his watch! Jesus looks Peter in the eyes and says, “Get behind, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:13-23). Peter’s plan, Peter’s vision is not God’s vision. Peter is trying to focus on a small piece of a much larger picture.

            Even on the Mount of Transfiguration Peter still doesn’t get it. He wants to live in the moment. And while he is still speaking, the bright cloud surrounds them and the voice of God is heard. God interrupts Peter. Not with a kind little, “Pardon me.” No, God just starts to speak. And when God speaks, things happen. The disciples, even Peter, becomes still and is forced to listen.

            But to what? Yes, God is speaking and they definitely heard His voice. But there is a difference between hearing someone and listening. So what are the disciples forced to listen to? Go back to when Peter was proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ and when Peter pulled Jesus aside and started to rebuke Him. As one commentator states, “without this understanding of Jesus’ person and work, there can be no understanding of Jesus at all”.[1] Without the understanding of the big picture of who Jesus is and what it is He came to do, that He is the Son of God who came to live the perfect life which God’s Law requires of all people, to conquer sin, to redeem His people, to renew their hearts and minds toward each other, and to give them the gift of eternal … there is no understanding of Jesus.

            And what about us? We need to be interrupted by God as well, and not just with a simple little “Oh, pardon me.”We need to be interrupted to be still, to be made quiet and not only hear God but to truly listen to Him and what He has for us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God … We must not … assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but to allow it to be arranged by God.” We need to understand and acknowledge that God has a bigger plan for us than what is going to happen later today, next month, or within this year. We get so busy in looking at what I need to do today, what I need to get done, that I have to be involved in as many things as possible that we forget to be still and listen. We forget to be still and listen to the one with whom God is pleased. We forget to be still and listen to Jesus.

            The disciples on that mountain top surrounded by the glory of God in that cloud were scared to death with what was happening around them. After God spoke and silence fell on that mountain top, the disciples lifted up their eyes and they saw the only one they needed to hear.

            And what does Jesus say? Quite a bit, actually. But the first thing they hear is something you and I could benefit from hearing too.  “Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 17:7). We don’t have to be afraid of what the disciples were afraid of while in that cloud … but we sure do have a list of other things, of other fears, but just as Jesus said to His disciples, He says to you, “Don’t be afraid.”

            Jesus interrupted the disciples being afraid with a simple touch, with a word. Jesus then continues on with them down the mountain. He doesn’t leave them in their fear nor does He leave them to just fend for themselves.

            Even when Jesus goes and does suffer at the hands of sinful men, when Jesus dies on the cross and is buried, He is still able to calm their fears. On that third day, when the women went to the tomb, an angel interrupted them. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen” (Matthew 28:5-6). As the women were going back, Jesus interrupted them and said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there” (Matthew 28:10).

            Life is full of interruptions, full of things that want our attention, things which want to take us away from truly listening to the voice of our Savior. In the midst of those times, we need to take a step back and say to those times “Pardon me, I need to listen to my Savior” for your Savior continues to speak promises of forgiveness, life, salvation, and peace to you each and every day. Amen.

            That peace which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.

[1] Gibbs Matthew Commentary on 17:1-8


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